Tag Archives: Warum nicht?

Seeing and looking out

For me, one of the best parts of learning a new language is the way it leads you to wonder anew at your mother tongue. In Dialog in Deutsch this morning we were talking about the various compounds that can be formed by adding a prefix to the noun die Sicht – “sight,” “visibility,” “view” and “point of view.” Now this is a favorite word of mine because it was one of the first I learned as part of a compound because Ex, one of the characters in Warum Nicht? the language learning radio program from Deutsche Welle, is an invisible – unsichtbar – elf (and, yes, that this is rather odd really does help to fix the vocabulary in one’s mind!).

The compound that caught my attention today in terms of what it highlighted about English, however, was die Umsicht. This can translated as “circumspection” – the more formal option – as well as “prudence.” I don’t think I ever put “circumspection” together with its relatives “introspection” and “inspection,” nor had a I thought about its connections with “circumnavigate” or “circumscribe.” If you look at the etymology of “circumspection,”  you will find a Latin root meaning “to look around” which shows a clear relationship to Umsicht if you pull it apart into um – “around” and Sicht – “view”. (You can also find “*spect” in the “prospect” meaning of die Aussicht.)

Intriguingly, die Vorsicht, is also given as a translation of “prudence” – amazing what one can “see” if one is prudent enough to take the time to “look out!” for beautiful language “sights!”

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Mal for the price of one

I first came across mal in a lesson on colloquial expressions on Memrise (a nifty tool that interfaces with Facebook). The first expression I learned using this flexible little word was mal sehen which can be translated as “we’ll see” or “I’ll have to see.” Like another phrase I learned early – Warum nicht? meaning “Why not?” – it comes in incredibly handy when you want to comment but can’t seem to form that nice, full sentence. Later on, I learned that you can do a swap and and say Sehen Sie mal! and ask someone to look at something – “Look!” – in a tone that is friendlier and softer than saying Sehen Sie! Likewise, to invite someone to try something in a friendly way, you can say Probieren Sie mal!

Today I added mal kurz to the mal family. This phrase is helpful when you don’t have your Handy handy and want to make a call or google something: Kann ich mal kurz dein Handy benutzen? “Can I use your phone for sec’ ?” Or if you want to check on something, you can say Ich gehe mal kurz nachsehen – “I’ll have a quick look.” Or when you are struggling to hold your groceries and get out your keys, you can say Kannst du das mal kurz halten? – “Can you hold onto this for a moment?” Then, when you get inside and realize that you’ve forgotten one thing, you can say Ich habe etwas vergessen. Ich gehe mal kurz nach draußen – I’ve forgotten something. I’ll just nip out.” Finally, mal kurz appears in a slightly humorous/euphemistic phrase you can use to indicate you need to use the toilet, similar to saying in English “I need to powder my nose/answer the call of nature/spend a penny.” This phrase, Ich muss mal kurz verschwinden, could be slightly confusing if translated literally – “I must disappear/vanish for a moment.”

Here’s hoping that mal kurz will stick in my memory the way mal sehen and Sehen Sie mal have, rather than vanishing after only a moment as so much of my new vocabulary seems want to do!

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